The crucial move that changed my mother’s life — and gave me peace

Mother was intelligent. Elegant. Fierce. A former educator. Above all, a mother. A woman you didn’t dare challenge. Mother was exceptional and complicated. She was in control.

Until she wasn’t.

Rock bottom was in August, the day she called the police on her caregiver, who was trying to bathe her at my request.

I stood in her independent living studio apartment, as my sister screamed at me on the phone, and the West Palm Beach Police officers stood outside her door.

Mother had soiled the carpet and recliner she was sitting in, oblivious to the absurdity of what was happening around her.

Rock bottom.

That same day, I reached out on Facebook, desperately asking for help. This was foreign to me. I never ask for help.

Yet, here I was, this “fixer” of our family, pleading to the universe: I need help.

Mercifully, help came in the form of two lifelong friends who had been through the same nightmare and were in the business of helping families in my situation.

They told me to call the Help Line for Palm Beach and Treasure Coast Area Agency on Aging. It was the best thing I could have done. It was the first time I felt like I had an advocate, someone who was hearing me, who was validating what I was going through and acknowledging things needed to change.

I am not faint of heart, nor am I a delicate flower. My life has been filled with upheavals and unsteadiness that would have brought most people to their knees.

I grew up knowing the words “Samantha, I need your help” meant a crisis I was expected to remedy without question.

This was different.

This was mother getting lost, but insisting it was the fault of having just moved.

It was her going to her doctor, but not being truthful about what was wrong.

It was all those small, innocuous moments adding up to me feeling like there was something wrong with mother.

Then it became more obvious.

She refused to take showers or bathe, always insisting she’d just done that. She turned off the water to the toilet to stop a leak that didn’t exist. She flushed the toilet only infrequently. She lived in her recliner, which became the center of her world. She forgot how to use the remote for the TV and claimed it was “on the fritz.” She refused to let maintenance into her apartment to clean floors she soiled. She needed physical therapy and agreed “only if it does not require anything of me.”

We used to share an inside joke and she made me promise, “Samantha, don’t let me get smelly.”

Yet here we were. Her sitting in her recliner on towels she had put there to cover the stains she herself had made but did not remember making. Me walking down the hallway smelling her apartment before getting to her door.

This was not my mother. She would have died a thousand deaths thinking this was her fate, yet here we were. Holding hands and struggling to pretend that everything was fine.

Here we were with a diagnosis: Late onset dementia.

My mother would have never tolerated being in a full-time memory-care facility. She was far too in control for such a life — but that is where we are today, thanks to the people who helped me and led me here, Arden Courts in West Palm Beach.

“Memory care is all we do,” the Arden Courts advertisements say.

Living here is the most beneficial thing to happen for her in the past 10 years.

I tried everything I knew before going this route, and I regret that it took so long to get here. My mother is a new woman.

Within two days in memory care, she was eating in the common dining room with other residents. Mother resisted at first, politely insisting on eating in her room, but the staff quickly adjusted their approach to “dinner is served.” Just like that, they had accomplished something I and others had been unable to do in the past three years. Mother now gets her hair done at the salon and has her nails painted.

I am in awe and my heart aches for the woman who raised me.

Now I am learning to enjoy learning who she has become.

If you are reading this and have a parent or spouse heading down this path, you are not alone.

I can’t tell you that your solution will be the same as mine, but what I can offer you is that there is hope of finding a solution that is right for your loved one. Mine came in the form of a very specialized team that understood my mother’s line of thinking and an environment where it mattered who she used to be.

There are many other residents just like her, but all with differing paths leading them to this one solution.

My message to you is that there is help for your loved one. Take that first step and ask for help. Find an advocate who will help you on this journey. Listen to the experts and explore options that work for all involved.

A year ago, I would have never believed you if you told me that my mother would be in a group setting, calling out answers to questions, participating in sing-a-longs, dining in a group environment or sleeping in a regular bed.

Or that I could go back to just being her daughter — for as long as she remembers me that way.

Samantha Forzano did not use her mother’s name, to respect her privacy.

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